Chance (Chanel)

The weird thing about Chanel is that they try to have two entirely separate perfumery styles from two different countries: France, and America. Chanel's mass-produced perfume division was originally an American enterprise (WWII forced the French Gabrielle to move the perfume factory to New Jersey), and much of its contemporary fragrance line is manufactured here in the United States, but I smell within the department store and "Les Exclusifs" ranges a minor difference in compositional approach. The Allure line, while continental in style, speaks to the dominance of fresh fougères and orientals in the American market of the nineties, and Bleu de Chanel continues to address our love of all things squeaky-clean. Coco Mademoiselle and Chance in particular feel very American, stylistically speaking, although all of these perfumes draw from French influences, using tonalities and olfactory textures of fresh chypres, aromatic fougères, and ambery orientals to achieve postmodern duality and versatility.

The Les Exclusifs, on the other hand, aren't nearly as rosy-cheeked and red-checker tableclothed, or at least they're not meant to be. There's more than a little Franco-American haughtiness to 31 Rue Cambon (it puts on airs), a faux-sophistication to Coromandel, that's intended to reach out to a different mindset altogether. You aren't supposed to wear Coromandel while sipping Orange Julius with girlfriends at the mall in Westbrook. I mean, you can do that by all means, and it wouldn't raise eyebrows, but it does raise the question - would you spend over a hundred dollars for a Chanel if you only wore it slumming? I tend to think that the Les Exclusifs are aimed at the "hip" adult who doesn't mind donning blue jeans and getting ice cream at Baskin Robbins if evening tickets to the opera are nestled comfortably in the hip pocket. Elegance goes anywhere and everywhere, after all.

Chance, however, doesn't say anything about elegance, American or otherwise, and that's my problem with it. This perfume feels unoriginal and mundane, and maddeningly comfortable in its own "unoriginally-mundane" skin. Its olfactory cues are borrowed from Coco Mademoiselle and Allure, and what smells to me like an assorted array of Estee Lauder perfumes. Jacques Polge has big love for that transparent and blatantly synthetic patchouli note that he crams into almost every one of his feminine creations. Chanel's image is conservative, with a slew of "safe" masculines and feminines, and I think the company fails at dividing its customer base into separate camps of well-to-dos, and well-to-don'ts. Luca Turin contends otherwise, and I see what he's saying, but disagree with the suggestion that two different kinds of people shop Chanel perfumes, and further disagree with the contention that Chanel manufactures two types of perfumes for two kinds of buyer.

By default, the department store perfumes would have to possess a certain degree of tawdriness and vulgarity to qualify as sneaker juice (the sort people have fun with, anyway), and none of them do. The Les Exclusifs would need a homogeneity of classical form, and none of them share that. I should be able to wear Coromandel and feel as enthralled with its contours as I do wearing 31 Rue Cambon, and smell the same quality design work in Jersey and Cologne, but that's not in the cards. 31 awakens my inner Doubting Thomas, and Coromandel makes me think of Zino (and I suppose if I'd tried it, Lutens' Borneo). Thus far the only Chanel that truly bridges these cognitive schisms is the inimitable N°19. I'll get to that one later.

There's also something a little played-out about Chance. I return to 1997 whenever I smell it, despite its being a 2003 release. The freshness of its pink pepper, citrus, plastic patchouli, and flowers combine to make a simple and happy scent. I appreciate the use of jasmine and iris, although both components are dialed down to an extraordinarily low setting. Like many Chanels, Chance comes across as a little too formulaic and uninspired. There's absolutely nothing wrong with its message - it smells delightful on the right woman, and obviously wants men to notice her, but I can do that without the help of pretty perfumes. The message from Chance should be that the woman wearing it wants you to overlook her physical attributes in favor of her "self," her intellect and personal motivations in life.

That requires tension, something to pull away from poles of sweet glamour and divide the senses. Chance could use a wallop of civet or castoreum against a touch of rose or overripe plum. It could use something more than what it currently offers, in any of its incarnations (there are several flankers). But I guess with Chanel's latest releases, there's no chance of that. Wear this one to Hoboken, with evening tickets to the latest Robert Downey Jr. flick, and don't think twice about it.


  1. "Chanel is originally an American name, and much of its contemporary fragrance line is manufactured here in the United States, but I smell within the department store and "Les Exclusifs" ranges a minor difference in compositional approach."

    How come? All Chanels that I have (and have some) has "Made in France" on them. Maybe those bottles sold in US are made there because they need to made in different kind of alcohol because the law.

    With all those movies and books about Gabrielle Chanel and Ernest Baux, your first sentense "Chanel is originally an American name" sounds very odd. Have you read any perfume history?

    1. Anonymous, thanks for the comment.

      I'm glad you asked these questions, it gives me a chance to clarify what I wrote. Indeed, Chanel herself was French and her fashion empire was also French. However, it is disingenuous to suggest that her perfume empire was truly French - perhaps the price she pays for being a Nazi sympathizer. By the time the perfumes were ready to be mass produced and marketed globablly, Gabrielle Chanel was forced to relocate her fragrance factory to New Jersey. Eventually she brought her couture line back to France, but WWII prohibited French production for a while. To this day Chanel manufactures most of its fragrance in the USA - my bottles have always said "Made in the USA" on them. There are still bottles made in France also.

      I suggest you read some perfume history to get the scoop on that. It will explain to you how Chanel eventually had to compromise her commercial plans by having No.5 produced in Hoboken. It will also explain why it's still being manufactured in NJ to this day. The Chanel brand as the world knew it in the nineteen forties (probably the first decade in which it blew up commercially) originated out of Hoboken before eventually getting shipped back to Grasse.


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